Tag Archives: brain

Dementia can be caused by hypertension – Study

A new study in Cardiovascular Research, published by Oxford University Press, indicates that patients with high blood pressure are at a higher risk of developing dementia. This research also shows (for the first time) that an MRI can be used to detect very early signatures of neurological damage in people with high blood pressure, before any symptoms of dementia occur.

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Photo by David Cassolato on Pexels.com

High blood pressure is a chronic condition that causes progressive organ damage. It is well known that the vast majority of cases of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia are not due to genetic predisposition but rather to chronic exposure to vascular risk factors.

The clinical approach to treatment of dementia patients usually starts only after symptoms are clearly evident. However, it has becoming increasingly clear that when signs of brain damage are manifest, it may be too late to reverse the neurodegenerative process. Physicians still lack procedures for assessing progression markers that could reveal pre-symptomatic alterations and identify patients at risk of developing dementia.

Researchers screened subjects admitted at the Regional Excellence Hypertension Center of the Italian Society of Hypertension in the Department of Angiocardioneurology and Translational Medicine of the I.R.C.C.S, Neuromed, in Italy. Researchers recruited people aged 40 to 65, compliant to give written informed consent and with the possibility to perform a dedicated 3 Tesla MRI scan. Continue reading

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How Much Exercise is Needed to Help Improve Thinking Skills?

Eat less; move more; live longer remains the mantra of this blog. Herewith another example of the value of the move more element. We all want to live longer, but that has little meaning if we don’t have a fully functional brain to power us through. I talk about the value of exercise regularly here. Now we have a study that quantifies the amount of movement relevant to benefit our brain.

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We know that exercise may help improve thinking skills. But how much exercise? And for how long?

To find the answers, researchers led by Joyce Gomes-Osman, Ph.D., PT, assistant professor of clinical physical therapy and neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, reviewed all of the studies in which older adults were asked to exercise for at least four weeks and then take tests of thinking and memory skills. Their results were compared to those of people who did not start a new exercise routine. The review was published in the May 30 online issue of Neurology Clinical Practice, an official journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The researchers found that people who exercised an average of at least 52 hours over about six months for about an hour each session may improve their thinking skills. In contrast, people who exercised for an average of 34 hours over the same time period did not show any improvement in their thinking skills. Continue reading

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Active Social Life May Preserve Memory and Slow Brain Aging

Eat less; move more; live longer remains the mantra of this blog. However, according to this latest study from Ohio State University – interact with friends more – might also be added.

A new study reveals a positive link between socializing, improved memory and a reduced rate of brain aging in mice. Mice who were housed in pairs showed less sings of inflammation and tissue erosion in the hippocampus, researchers report.

New research from The Ohio State University found that mice housed in groups had better memories and healthier brains than animals that lived in pairs.

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The discovery bolsters a body of research in humans and animals that supports the role of social connections in preserving the mind and improving quality of life, said lead researcher Elizabeth Kirby, an assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience and member of the Center for Chronic Brain Injury at Ohio State.

“Our research suggests that merely having a larger social network can positively influence the aging brain,” said Kirby, who is a member of the Neurological Institute at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center. Her research appears in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

“We know that in humans there’s a strong correlation between cognitive health and social connections, but we don’t know if it’s having a group of friends that’s protecting people or if it’s that people with declining brain health withdraw from their human connections,” Kirby said.

This study was designed to answer that hard-to-crack question with an animal model.

Some mice lived in pairs, which Kirby refers to as the “old-couple model.” Others were housed for three months with six other roommates, a scenario that allows for “pretty complex interactions.”

The mice were 15 months to 18 months old during the experiment – a time of significant natural memory decline in the rodent lifespan.

“It’s like mouse post-retirement age. If they drove, they’d be forgetting where the keys are or where they parked the car more often,” Kirby said.

In tests of memory, the group-housed mice fared better.

One test challenged the mice to recognize that a toy, such as a plastic car, had moved to a new location. A mouse with good brain health will gravitate toward the novelty of something that has been relocated.

“With the pair-housed mice, they had no idea that the object had moved. The group-housed mice were much better at remembering what they’d seen before and went to the toy in a new location, ignoring another toy that had not moved,” Kirby said.

In another common maze-based memory test, mice are placed on a well-lit round table with holes, some of which lead to escape hatches. Their natural tendency is to look for the dark, unexposed and “safe” escape routes.

Both groups of mice improved their escape-route search strategies with practice – but the research team was struck by the differences in the groups’ response to repeated tests, Kirby said.

The “couples” mice didn’t get faster at the test when it was repeated over the course of a day.

“But over the course of many days, they developed a serial-searching strategy where they checked every hole as quickly as possible. It’d be like walking as quickly as possible through each row of a parking lot to look for your car rather than trying to remember where your car actually is and walk to that spot,” Kirby said.

The group-housed mice improved with each trial, though.

“They seemed to try to memorize where the escape hatches are and walk to them directly, which is the behavior we see in healthy young mice,” Kirby said. “And that tells us that they’re using the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is really important for good memory function.”

The serial searching employed by the pair-housed mice is simpler, easier and doesn’t use that part of the brain, she said.

In humans, mice and many other animals, brain function in the hippocampus markedly declines with age, even in the absence of dementia. Exercise and social ties are known to preserve memory in this region in people, Kirby said.

After the housing experiment, the researchers examined the brain tissue of the mice and found increased inflammation in the pair-housed mice – biological evidence of eroded cognitive health.

“The group-housed mice had fewer signs of this inflammation, meaning that their brains didn’t look as ‘old’ as those that lived in pairs,” Kirby said.

The researchers also looked for evidence of new neuron growth in the hippocampus and found no differences between the groups.

Previous research in this area has primarily focused on mice that have highly enriched environments with lots of toys and opportunities for exercise and compared them with mice without as much to do.

This study goes further by showcasing differences that appear to be due to socialization alone, Kirby said. Future research should explore the molecular explanations for the connection between socialization and improved memory and brain health, she said.

Kirby said that people who are aging would do well to consider how their choices about where to live might impact their ability to be social.

“Something as basic as how long it takes to drive or walk to a friend’s house can make a big difference as we get older,” she said.

“A lot of people end up isolated not by choice, but by circumstance. ‘Over the river and through the woods’ might be fun for the kids, but it’s probably not so great for Grandma,” Kirby said.

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Connecting the Dots Between Physical and Emotional Health

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I have written time and again about the connection between exercise and the brain. Here is a further connection between our emotions and our bodies.

Tony

Our Better Health

There’s a link between your emotional health and your physical well-being, so take time to nurture both.

To be completely healthy, you should take care not only of your physical health, but your emotional health, too. If one is neglected, the other will suffer.

What’s the Connection Between Emotional and Physical Health?

There’s a physical connection between what the mind is thinking and those parts of the brain that control bodily functions. According to Charles Goodstein, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine in New York City, the brain is intimately connected to our endocrine system, which secretes hormones that can have a powerful influence on your emotional health. “Thoughts and feelings as they are generated within the mind [can influence] the outpouring of hormones from the endocrine system, which in effect control much of what goes on within the body,” says Dr…

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Bad habits that can hurt your brain – Web MD

I find myself writing something every week on how exercise benefits the brain as well as the body. I hope you are getting yours regularly. The other side of the coin includes actions we do or omit on a regular basis that harm our body as well as our brain. Here are some from WebMD.

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Not surprisingly, their first is not getting enough sleep. ” … lack of sleep may be a cause of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. It’s best to have regular sleeping hours. If you have trouble with sleep, avoid alcohol, caffeine, and electronics in the evening, and start a soothing bedtime ritual.”

I feel strongly about getting enough sleep. Check out my Page – How important is a good night’s sleep? for lots more details. Continue reading

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Stronger people have healthier brains – Study

Herewith another log on the fire. Eat less; move more; live longer remains the mantra here. I was aware of the brain benefits of aerobic exercise, now, it seems that strength training also contributes.

A study of nearly half a million people has revealed that muscular strength, measured by hand grip, is an indication of how healthy our brains are.

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Dr. Joseph Firth, an Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Manchester and Research Fellow at NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University, crunched the numbers using UK Biobank data.

Using data from the 475,397 participants from all around the U.K., the new study showed that on average, stronger people performed better across every test of brain functioning used. Continue reading

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6 Steps to sharpen your brain – Harvard

At the risk of repeating myself I have had three cases of dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease in my family. They occurred on both my mother’s and father’s side, so I am totally paying attention to anything that might help to preserve my cognitive powers. I turned 78 in January. Here is Harvard Healthbeat on the subject.

Everyone has the occasional “senior moment.” Maybe you’ve gone into the kitchen and can’t remember why, or can’t recall a familiar name during a conversation. Memory lapses can occur at any age, but aging alone is generally not a cause of cognitive decline. When significant memory loss occurs among older people, it is generally not due to aging but to organic disorders, brain injury, or neurological illness.

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Studies have shown that you can help prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia with some basic good health habits:

  • staying physically active
  • getting enough sleep
  • not smoking
  • having good social connections
  • limiting alcohol to one drink a day
  • eating a balanced diet low in saturated and trans fats.

Certain health conditions that can impair cognitive skills include diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, depression, and hypothyroidism. If you have any of these health issues, you can help protect your memory by following your doctor’s advice carefully.

Memory changes can be frustrating, but the good news is that, thanks to decades of research, you can learn how to get your mind active. There are various strategies we can use to protect and improve memory. Here are several you might try.

1. Keep learning

A higher level of education is associated with better mental functioning in old age. Experts think that advanced education may help keep memory strong by getting a person into the habit of being mentally active. Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Many people have jobs that keep them mentally active, but pursuing a hobby, learning a new skill, or volunteering for a project at work that involves a skill you don’t usually use can function the same way and help improve memory. Continue reading

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Can Exercise Help Me Learn?

“Exercise helps you to learn on three levels: first, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus,” so says Spark, the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. Author John J. Ratey, M.D., is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Besides, Spark, he also wrote A User’s Guide to the Brain among other books.

The hippocampus plays a major role in the consolidation of information from long term memory and short term memory. So, clearly, exercise plays an important role for seniors who are concerned about their memory failing in their latter years.

One distinction needs to be made here. You can’t learn difficult material while you are exercising because blood is shunted away from the prefrontal cortex and this hampers your executive function. Dr. Ratey quotes a study of college students who were working out on treadmills and exercise bikes at a high rate. They performed poorly on tests of complex learning. “However blood flow shifts back almost immediately after you finish exercising, and this is the perfect time to focus on a project that demands sharp thinking and complex analysis.”

He enumerates an experiment that was done on 40 adults aged 50 to 64. They were asked to do one 35 minute treadmill session at either 60 percent or 70 percent of maximum heart rate. Afterwards, they were asked to list alternative uses for common objects, like a newspaper. It is used for reading, but can be used to wrap fish, line a bird cage, etc. Half of the group watched a movie and the other half exercised. They were tested three times, before the session, immediately after the session and then 20 minutes later. The results of the movie watchers showed no change, but the runners improved their processing speed and cognitive flexibility after just one session. “Cognitive flexibility is an important executive function that reflects our ability to shift thinking and to produce a steady flow of creative thoughts and answers as opposed to a regurgitation of the usual responses. The trait correlates with high performance levels in intellectually demanding jobs.” The doctor recommends going for a short, intense run at lunchtime ahead of an important brain-storming session at work.

spark-book I have enjoyed Dr. Ratey’s book and recommend it to readers of the blog. You can get a look at the book on the Amazon website and purchase it from there if you like it.

As regular readers know, I lost an aunt to Alzheimer’s and my mother suffered from dementia in her final years. I am a total believer in this exercise-learning hypothesis. If I don’t ride my bike every day, I manage a five mile walk, climb 30 flights of stairs, or take a trip to the health club. I ain’t sittin’ around doin’ nothin’.

I have repeated the phrase, Use it or Lose it time and again in this blog. In this case, using the body promotes healthy mental processes as well as good physical results.

Tony

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2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Submits Scientific Report

Eat less; move more; live longer has been the mantra of this blog for years. I am always gratified to see those sentiments echoed elsewhere. The latest version comes from the government of all places and it dwells particularly on the aspect of exercise.

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The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, a group of nationally recognized experts in physical activity and public health, has submitted its recommendations to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary and disbanded.

The 2018 Scientific Report reinforces the recommendations included in the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines that physical activity reduces the risk of a large number of diseases and conditions. In addition to disease prevention benefits, the Scientific Report includes findings that regular physical activity provides a variety of benefits that help people sleep better, feel better, and perform daily tasks more easily. The Committee also found that some benefits happen immediately, on the same day a single bout of physical activity is performed.

Expanding on findings from the Advisory Committee Scientific Report, 2008, the 2018 Committee identified health benefits of physical activity that had not been previously identified including:

Improved bone health and weight status for children ages 3 to 5
Improved cognitive function for children ages 6 to 13
Decreased risk of certain cancers, dementia, and excessive weight gain for adults
Improved quality of life and sleep for adults
Reduced feelings of anxiety and depression in adults
Additional benefits for specific population including older adults, women who are pregnant or postpartum, and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions

Additionally, the Committee found strong or moderate evidence that more time spent in sedentary behavior is related to greater all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality and incidence, type 2 diabetes incidence, and the incidence of certain cancers.

Get Involved: The Department has published the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report online and the public is encouraged to view the Scientific Reportand provide written comments to the federal government at https://health.gov/paguidelines/pcd. The comment period will be open until 11:59 pm E.T. April 2, 2018.

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Brain Learns to Hit the Repeat Button in Pursuit of Pleasure

In a scientific first, researchers have observed in mice how the brain learns to repeat patterns of neural activity that elicit the all-important feel-good sensation. Until today, the brain mechanisms that guide this type of learning had not been measured directly, according to Neuroscience News.

This research offers key insights into how brain activity is shaped and refined as animals learn to repeat behaviors that evoke a feeling of pleasure. The findings also point to new strategies for targeting disorders characterized by abnormal repetitive behaviors, such as addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD.

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This image is an artistic interpretation of the authors’ work. Within a myriad of many pixel-like neurons, an obvious pattern emerges from more active red pixels and from parallel, less-active blue pixels: the letters corresponding to the word reward. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Gil Costa.

The study, led by researchers at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute, the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown and the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley), was published in Science.

“It’s no secret that we derive pleasure from doing things we enjoy, such as playing our favorite video game,” said Rui Costa, DVM, PhD, senior author and the associate director and CEO of Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute. “These results reveal that the brain learns which activity patterns lead to feel-good sensations, and reshapes itself to more efficiently reproduce those patterns.” Continue reading

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6 Habits that Damage the Brain – Infographic

Because both Alzheimer’s and dementia run in my family, I am acutely concerned about keeping my brain healthy as well as anything that might damage it.

On the positive side, check out my Page Important Facts About Your Brain (and Exercise Benefits) as well as Important Facts About Brain Fitness.

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The final item names smoking. To learn more about the damage smoking does to your body and your general health, check out my Page How Many Ways Does Smoking Harm You?

Tony

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Dim light dims our brains – Study

Regular readers know I do a lot of work on the brain, my brain. Family members have suffered from both Alzheimer’s and dementia. At the age of 78, I want to continue enjoying my life and mental capacity.

Now comes Michigan State University with info on how light affects our mental functioning.

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Spending too much time in dimly lit rooms and offices may actually change the brain’s structure and hurt one’s ability to remember and learn, indicates groundbreaking research by Michigan State University neuroscientists.

The researchers studied the brains of Nile grass rats (which, like humans, are diurnal and sleep at night) after exposing them to dim and bright light for four weeks. The rodents exposed to dim light lost about 30 percent of capacity in the hippocampus, a critical brain region for learning and memory, and performed poorly on a spatial task they had trained on previously.

The rats exposed to bright light, on the other hand, showed significant improvement on the spatial task. Further, when the rodents that had been exposed to dim light were then exposed to bright light for four weeks (after a month-long break), their brain capacity – and performance on the task – recovered fully.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is the first to show that changes in environmental light, in a range normally experienced by humans, leads to structural changes in the brain. Americans, on average, spend about 90 percent of their time indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Continue reading

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Send your brain a Valentine

We are sending our loved ones greetings cards and chocolates next week. Let’s not forget that two pound organ in our heads that keeps the show on the road. 

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Here are 10 tips from the Alzheimer’s Association to help protect your brain from decline  as you age. Please don’t wait till you are in your 60’s to start thinking about your brain health. The sooner your pay attention to it the better off you will be. 
1 Break a sweat
Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.

I write about exercise and the brain regularly. Check out my Page – Important facts about your brain (and exercise benefits) to learn more about this. 

2 Hit the books
Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online. Continue reading

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The impact of exercise on the brain

On the premise that one picture is worth 1000 words, here are 2000 words worth of pictures. Regular readers know I feel strongly about the positive impact of exercise on the brain. If you would like to read further on it, check out my Page – Important facts about your brain (and exercise benefits).

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Tony

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Aerobic exercise may ease some Alzheimer’s symptoms

Regular readers how focused I am on the connection between exercise and the brain. I lost three family members to Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of dementia. And, I just turned 78 two weeks ago. So, I was most interested in this report on the benefits of aerobic exercise on Alzheimer’s symptoms. When you finish reading, please check out my Page – Important facts about  your brain (and exercise benefits.)

Alzheimer’s Disease is a brain disorder that destroys memory and thinking skills over time. It is the most common form of dementia in older adults. There is presently no cure for the condition, though treatment options are available. Today, some 5.3 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s Disease, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. The number of older adults who will develop AD is expected to more than triple by 2050.

Geriatrics experts have suggested that exercising can improve brain health in older adults. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommendations for how much older adults should exercise. They suggest that older adults perform 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise (such as brisk walking), 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic training, or a combination of the two types. The WHO also recommends older adults perform muscle-strengthening exercises on at least two or more days a week. Continue reading

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Miles between Davis and Mozart: Brains of Jazz and Classical Musicians Work Differently

Music is one of the great joys of my life. I have a bluetooth speaker on my bike and I listen to music on my daily rides. My iPhone has about 15 gigabytes of jazz, classics and classic rock so I have the entire spectrum available. Consuming music, however, is not the same as producing it.

Different processes occur in the brains of jazz and classical pianists while playing the same piece of music, researchers report in Neuroscience News.

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Keith Jarret, world-famous jazz pianist, once answered in an interview when asked if he would ever be interested in doing a concert where he would play both jazz and classical music: “No, that’s hilarious. […] It’s like a chosen practically impossible thing […] It’s [because of] the circuitry. Your system demands different circuitry for either of those two things.” Where non-specialists tend to think that it should not be too challenging for a professional musician to switch between styles of music, such as jazz and classical, it is actually not as easy as one would assume, even for people with decades of experience.

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